The paddle is one of the most visible and predominant symbols of Greek life. Frequently given as a gift, adorned on walls of chapter halls and bedrooms and seen in the back of car windows, the paddle is a time-honored, prevalent symbol of Greek life, its members and the Greek community as a whole. Along with being a fixture on college and university campuses across America, the paddle has also been forever immortalized - for better or worse - in popular media.
From movies like Dazed and Confused and Animal House, audiences received a sensationalized view of the paddle along with a sensationalized view of Greek life in general. (Dazed and Confused was in high school, but you get the gist.)
For those in the modern-day Greek community, this sensationalized notion of the paddle is a foreign idea. In today's Greek traditions, members regularly present paddles to other members as a sign of gratitude, to welcome new members or to acknowledge a specific achievement. For those in the Greek community, the paddle is symbolic of a lot of things.
The Paddle's Place in the Greek Community
Mentoring is an important aspect to Greek life, and when an older brother or sister takes a younger member under their wing, an important bond is created. To show their appreciation, little brothers and sisters present their mentor with a paddle as a sign of gratitude, loyalty and respect. Also, many fraternities give paddles to newly pledged members as a welcoming sign of inclusion into the chapter.
How Paddles Became Part of College Life
How exactly the paddle came to be part of college, and more importantly, how the paddle become part of Greek life is not exactly cut and dry. There's no documented, concrete information that shows a clear timeline to today's traditions.
In early America, the first collegiate Greek fraternity was formed in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa, so fraternal organizations and universities have grown together since the beginning. In fact, the entire notion of the Greek fraternal and sorority order is unique to American colleges.
Greek Life in Changing Times and the Importance of Tradition
Today's paddles represent inclusion, gratitude, chapter loyalty and dedication to the Greek community and its members. Throughout history, symbols and traditions have changed, evolved and reflected the values of the modern culture. The Greek paddle is no different. Although the paddle can still be seen as a symbol of discipline, that discipline is one that is self-ascribed to being a good college student, member of the community and brother or sister to your chapter.
Tradition is an incredibly important part of Greek life, but traditions can carry the symbolism that you choose, still a symbol of civility and camaraderie. Today's paddles come in creative designs, personalized messages, different colors and various shapes. When it comes to today's creative, decorative Greek paddles, there's a reason they hang on the walls and hallways of chapter houses and in member's bedrooms. These paddles represent Greek life in the way that it should - as gifts.
A paddle, as a decorative gift that was given to you from a brother or sister, is a powerful sentiment. As a member of the Greek community, you have the power to both understand the Greek tradition while appreciating the possibility of progress. For members of the Greek community, the paddle will always symbolize your time as an active member of your chapter and a special chapter in your life.